Tag Archives: creation

Creation vs. Evolution vs. Catholicism

The Barna Group, commissioned by BioLogos, has just released an intriguing new study about sharp divides among “today’s pastors” about science, faith, and the origin of species. The study shows an almost even split between those who believe in Young Earth Creation and those who do not, with the do not group being divided between proponents of theistic evolution and progressive creationism. Young Earth Creationists have their stronghold in the South, while theistic evolution is most common in the Midwest. Most clergy think that questions of faith and science are important, but, at the same time, a majority fear that disagreements are distracting from the greater Christian witness.

There is little there to shock, unless you realize one glaring omission: Catholics. While the survey of Protestant ministers actually excludes both Orthodox and Catholic leaders, the Orthodox have only about one million members in the United States, making their omission excusable (at least from a statistician’s point of view). Catholics, on the other hand, are no minority to be trifled at. As the largest single Christian denomination in the United States–one in four Americans belongs to the Roman Catholic Church–their absence from a survey about the origins of life suggests an array of possible biases, all of them disturbing. It is likely that, in lockstep with history, that Catholics are still being treated as second class Christians or (perhaps implicitly) not real Christians at all. It would not be the first time the self-proclaimed Protestant establishment drew a sharp line between Christianity and papism–even if it can no longer express the dichotomy in those terms in our politically correct age. Equally possible, Catholics may have been excluded because their presumed answers would have tipped the scale away from a picture of conflict between conservative and progressive thought on origins. The Roman Catholic Church never engaged in the kind of systematic anti-evolution campaigns that so many Protestants did at the turn of the twentieth century in response to Darwin. In fact, for more than sixty years the official Catholics position has been that there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity, leading to a de facto triumph of theistic evolution among leading Catholic divines. Admitting Catholics into the dialogue would throw off both the slim majority of Young Earth Creationists and the geography of creationism (with the South and Southwest being an area of significant Catholic presence).

Or maybe the Barna Group just never thought to include Catholics. But would that really be better?

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A Creational Worship Experience

As I watch this video of a three day old Mouflon (proto-sheep) exploring for the first time, all I can think is, “Who lets their newborn play near a cactus?” Maybe I can adopt her, rescuing her from that clearly unsafe home environment.

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John of Damascus for Easter

Come, and let us drink of that New River,
Not from barren Rock divinely poured,
But the Fount of Life that is for ever
From the Sepulchre of CHRIST the LORD.

All the world hath bright illumination,—
Heav’n and Earth and things beneath the earth:
’Tis the Festival of all Creation:
CHRIST hath ris’n, Who gave Creation birth:

Yesterday with Thee in burial lying,
Now today with Thee aris’n I rise;
Yesterday the partner of Thy dying,
With Thyself upraise me to the skies.

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Complementarianism: Value and Function

The following is part of an ongoing response to Roger E. Olson’s critique of extreme complementarianism. For the origin and nature of these posts, see Complementarianism: A Defense from a Nobody.

I imagine that many, perhaps even Dr. Olson (who, while a real person, has taken on for my purposes here more the role of a fictional foil against which to cast complementarianism), consider the distinction between value and function as far as gender economics is concerned to be a thin veneer behind which to hide overt sexism. The distinction is, nevertheless, one which I believe to be substantive and necessary for approaching the question of gender economics. In simpler terms, it is the philosophical underpinning for the idea that things can be different but equal. That phrasing has the nasty connotation of racist ideals of “separate but equal” which was in fact merely a façade for separate and deeply unequal treatment. The problem both with “separate but equal” and the distinction between value and function is not in the abstract but in the improper application.

Distinguishing function from value is an assumption that we all operate with uncritically with on a daily basis. For example, consider the question, “Who do you love more, your spouse or your children?” Even as someone without children, I realize that question is nonsensical. The only appropriate, healthy answer is, “I love them equally.” And yet, you do not have the same expectations from your spouse as you do your children. You value them equally and yet you recognize that there is a fundamental difference in the way they operate relative to you. In theory then, at least, I hope everyone can agree to the possibility of ontological equality and economic distinction.

Even Olson admits that essentially everyone agrees that men and women were created for different functions. After all, it is hard not to look at a male and a female and realize that they are not quite the same. On the other hand, Olson’s only practical example of this is to point to anatomical distinctions: “even feminists believe men and women have different roles insofar as only women give birth!” At the core of complementarianism, however, is the belief that God chose to create men and women with more important differences than the ability of men to urinate standing up.

In fact, an appeal to pregnancy—or anatomy more generally—as a key functional difference between men and women seems to treat the problem in reverse. It forgets, in essence, that God was not constrained by the world He had not yet created and the reproductive strictures He would produce. In other words, there was nothing preventing God from creating a vast hermaphroditic biosphere in which there is neither maleness nor femaleness. For that matter, He might just have easily have made all life reproduce by mitosis and save us all the trouble of coupling to begin with. For my part, this realization of divine freedom calls into question any model of gender economics which asks how men and women are different and turns to anatomy for the crucial answers. Instead, we ought to ask, “Given that men and women are obviously biologically different: why?”

It should be striking to all of us that God built inadequacy and incompleteness, cooperation and dependence into the most basic relationship of human existence. There is no sense in which any human is ultimately self-sufficient biologically because God has placed in us an imperative to reproduce and the almost ironic inability to do so on our own. And why shouldn’t He? The cardinal human sin from the garden up to the present has always been a desire for and a false sense of autonomy: the belief that we know better than God, that we can get along without God, and that, given time, we can become gods unto ourselves. Yet the very human condition is structured to teach us that we are incomplete on our own, dependent on another, different someone for ultimate wholeness. This incompleteness and this wholeness, however, are more than a mere physical incompleteness (i.e. the inability to satisfy the biological urge to have sex and reproduce). It is a deeper, metaphysical incompleteness which is touched on with the complimenting natures of the sexes but which speaks to the greater incompleteness of a creation which has forgotten or rejected its Creator.

Lost in all this discussion of difference, however, is a more foundational, more important fact which egalitarians and complementarians agree on: men and women are created equal. It is an understandable oversight. After all, people spend very little time arguing about what they agree on. The comparably subtler and more minor difference about what I and Olson believe respectively is the extent and nature of functional differences between the sexes is a great deal more fun to argue about. Nevertheless, it is critical to realize that a reasoned complementarians (and the only one I have encountered outside the pages of history books) believes no less strongly in the truth that women are of no less value than men (nor, it should be noted, are men of any less value than women).

This equality is not incidental. God did not create one kind of human (male) and then another kind of human (female) and then calibrate their respective values so they would even out. Men and women share a common humanity, bear a common divine image, and have a common genderless standing before God—which is to say that God does not love men and love women, He does not save men and save women, but loves and saves people. Were anyone able to list a thousand ways in which men and women are different, such a list would not begin to compare to the way in which the sexes are the same by virtue of their common humanity. If anything, the ways in which we are different and how that plays out in the economy of the home and the church and society at large are the incidentals, the merely exterior features on the surface of our identical core substance.

We see this reflected in the narrative of creation which first speaks of the simultaneous creation of all humanity, male and female, in the image of God before taking a more precise look at the creation of a distinct male and then, in response to his recognition of his incompleteness, a distinct female. The same will be true of Paul who, in his earliest letter, insists to his audience that there is no male and female, no slave and free, no Jew and Gentile before later writing about the way masters should behave relative to their slaves, how Jews and Gentiles approach God differently, and how men and women should interact in the home and the church. There is reality in the difference between male and female and a divine intentionality which is apparent in Scripture, but always embedded in it is the underlying, overarching (and, yes, I realize those are somewhat contradictory images) truth of the essential equality of the sexes. We are one humanity with a single standing before God.

So, yes, I do believe that men and women are different, even different in ways which transcend anatomy and transcend fluid cultural norms. But even if I believed that God made men to be bankers and women to be housewives (and I certainly do not), a fair representation of complementarianism respects that I can hold such a view without in anyway denigrating women, lessening their value, or making them second-class citizens before God.

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David Lipscomb on Animals

John Mark Hicks recently shared a quote from David Lipscomb that was so delightful for me that I simply had to repost it here. These are Lipscomb’s thoughts, published in the Gospel Advocate, on the occasion of the founding of the Nashville Humane Society in 1887:

Some of the best citizens of Nashville are engaged in a good work in the organization of the Humane Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The Lord has given the animal to us and we are his protectors. We have no right to cruelly use them. Many a man will be punished for his inhumanity to the dumb brute. The genuine Christian will treat the animal humanely. It is a sad commentary on our people that there exists the necessity for the organization of such a society. Many people in our own beloved land need to become civilized.

This should function as a potent reminder to us that a concern for the welfare of animals is not some ancillary political agenda that has been grafted onto Christianity in the these latter days. In fact, it is a longstanding concern among Christians for whom it ought to be a natural outgrowth of our core theology of creation. While Hicks’ tongue-in-cheek suggestion that yes, dogs do go to heaven is more rhetorical flourish than substance, the reminder that “Animals are not throw-aways” is a profound Christian truth which warrants regular repetition.

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Christ, Jain, and the Material World

Perhaps the most constant–and, in the opinion of many, damning–critique leveled against Eastern religions by Westerners is their negative view of the world and their apparently escapist approach to soteriology, borrowing from Christian theological jargon. There is a perception, right or wrong, that Eastern religions see the world as a fundamentally broken place which must be fled and that flight from the world involves the absorption of the self into a cosmic consciousness or nothingness or both. Jain is certainly at least as open to this criticism as any other Eastern faith. While the commitment to life that is apparent in ahimsa would suggest a profound respect for the world, Jain religion does not actually protect life because it believes it is in some sense enduring, sacred, and intrinsically valuable. Instead, the respect for life is, in some sense, merely a subtle act of self-interest, a necessary ethical step on the path toward liberation, an escape from the cycle of death and reincarnation. Included in this escape is an escape also from the confines of materiality and anything which is in any sense associated with the world. In the Acaranga Sutra, the reader encounters once again the teachings of Mahavira which here describe the nature of existence after liberation is finally achieved:

The liberated is not long nor small nor round nor triangular nor quadrangular nor circular; he is not black nor blue nor red nor green nor white; neither of good nor bad smell; nor bitter nor pungent nor astringent nor sweet; neither rough nor soft; neither heavy nor light; neither cold nor hot; neither harsh nor smooth; he is without body, without resurrection, without contact of matter, he is not feminine nor masculine nor neuter; he perceives, he knows, but there is no analogy whereby to know the transcendent; its essence is without form; there is no condition of the unconditioned. There is no sound, no color, no smell, no taste, not touch–nothing of that kind. Thus I say.

The idea certainly has an aesthetic appeal. The idea of a conscious, non-corporeal existence has such an appeal to the Christian mind that it has been adopted (from Greek philosophy rather than Jain) into Christianity’s own escapist soteriology in the form of the soul’s flight to heaven. While that expression of Christian thought is deeply suspect, there is admittedly a strong affinity between the way Mahavira speaks of the transcendent and the way orthodox Christian thinkers have spoken of it. Consider this roughly parallel thought of Gregory Palamas:

Every nature is utterly remote and absolutely estranged from the divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature, but if each of the other things is nature, he is not nature: just as he is not a being, if others are beings; and if he is a being, the others are not being. If you accept this as true also for wisdom and goodness and generally all the things around God or said about God, then your theology will be correct and in accord with the saints.

Gregory describes transcendent reality–in this case, God–in many of the same terms as Mahavira: real and aware, but invisible, non-corporeal, and fundamentally indescribable. There is, in both, the bare minimum agreement that philosophical materialism must be rejected. It is part of an intuitive function of human psychology that scientists explain as evolutionary attempt to grapple with and quantify the unknown but which theologians more liberally suggest may be an innate sense of the divine common to the species. Beyond this, Jain and Christianity diverge in their understanding of the relationship of the transcendent to the divine. In spite of what many Christians have suggested about Orthodox theology, for example, there are no Christian bodies which believe that humanity’s ultimate goal is to become that transcendent reality which is non-corporeal and indescribable. The essence of the transcendent God, in Christianity, is what all reality is defined against; at the moment when the creation is absorbed wholesale into the Creator, both cease to exist in any meaningful sense as Christians conceive them.

More importantly, and with significantly less flavor of the esoteric, the Christian view of the transcendent and its relationship to the material world reveals an essential disagreement with Jain about the value of material existence. In creating the material world, God declared it good, and, whatever evil occurs in it, His handiwork has never ceased to be good at its core. That would explain why the Christian picture of redemption is not one of the transcendent calling people out of the material but of the immaterial taking on physical form in order to redeem creation. The Christian story of salvation has never been one of Christ leading people out of the world (in the sense of material existence). Just the opposite: the promise of Christian salvation centers around the idea that humanity will be resurrected into a new body to enjoy the presence of God on a new earth. A Christian respect for life and for creation is centered, therefore, not on a self-serving ethic but on a commitment to the eternal value of God’s creation. Christian liberation is not a liberation from the world (again, in the sense of materiality) but liberation for the world. Christians have been freed from sin so that they might free the rest of the creation from the consequences of sin and so that all creation might then share in the experience the transcendent, not in ceasing to be creatures but as creatures were intended to experience the Creator.

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Christ, Jain, and the Ethic of Non-violence

It would be blatantly dishonest to suggest that my attraction to Jain was not closely tied to Jain’s most conspicuous ethical feature: ahimsa (the symbol for which is pictured on the left). Ahimsa, as a principle, corresponds closely to Western ideas like pacifism, non-violence, or non-harm, though–as with all peculiarly foreign concepts–it would be wrong to simply equate it with any of these. It is, in some respects, a richer and more comprehensive understanding of nonviolence than is found in many Western streams of pacifist thought. At other times, however, it lends itself to a shallower and more thoroughly material understanding of non-violence that Christianity may, at times, legitimately critique. The primary text to be examined on the question of ahimsa is the Sutrakrtanga written by Sudharma, a sixth century B.C. Jain monk.

The serious, even extreme, nature of Jain non-violence is immediately apparent both to the casual observer of Jain monks and to the casual reader of Jain texts. Sudharma specifies that the principle of “non-killing” should extend to all “living beings whether they move or not, on high, below and on earth.” He criticizes Buddhist monks for not following this principle: “Eating seeds and drinking cold water and what has been prepared for them, they enter upon meditation, but are ignorant of of the truth and do not possess carefulness.” The true practitioner of Jain strives not to destroy even the microscopic life that exists in water or to unthinkingly consume life simply because it has been offered as alms. Even admitting that some inadvertent killing is inevitable in life, the Jain monk takes extreme measures to avoid it and is penitent when he falls short. This is reflected in the First of the Mahavrata, or Five Great Vows, of Jain: “I renounce all killing of living beings, whether subtle or gross, whether movable or immovable. Nor shall I myself kill living beings (nor cause others to do it, nor consent to it). As long as I live, I confess and blame, repent and exempt myself of these sins, in the thrice threefold way, in mind, speech, and body.”

One of the most interesting common focuses of ahimsa and Christian non-violence is the way each faith explicitly extends the definition of violence beyond mere action. Both in the Mahavrata and the Sutrakirtanga, Jain teachers emphasize that it is not enough merely to avoid killing. One must vow to neither cause it nor consent to others doing it; “Master of his senses and avoiding wrong, he should do no harm to anybody, neither by thoughts, nor words, nor acts.” This translation of active sin into the heart of the sinner was the ethical revolution which Jesus brought to Judaism in the Sermon on the Mount. In his initial volley with the Pharisees and their legalistic application of the Law, Jesus takes up the question of murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” In the strongest possible terms, Jesus insists that it is not enough to merely not act in violence, which may be avoided simply for fear of the consequences or cowardice or lack of opportunity. As he will explain in the next passage with regard to lust, the very inclination to violence is a spiritual act of violence. In both Christianity and Jain we find a more comprehensive form of non-violence than contemporary political forms of pacifism offer. To commit to non-violence requires a total transformation not only of what one does but also how one thinks and how one experiences the world.

The most most substantial practical difference between Jain and Christianity should be obvious: Christians, overwhelmingly, don’t have a problem killing, cooking, and eating animals. Jain, in contrast, takes its version of the golden rule and applies it indiscriminately to all life: “…a man should wander about treating all creatures in the world so as he himself would be treated.” It is here where the Jain tradition offers its most pertinent critique of Christianity. Let me immediate clarify that I am by no means commending the wearing of protective masks, the methodical sweeping of the ground wherever one walks, or even thoroughgoing vegetarianism. Jesus was almost certainly not a vegetarian, and he certainly didn’t insist that his followers practice it. Quite the opposite. There is, however, an extent to which Christians have historically taken too great a license with the teaching that humanity has “dominion over” creation. It is critical that Christians remember that humans were not created distinct from creation but distinct within creation, and that our dominion is intended to be as regents of God. There is no reason that Christians should adopt the Jain version of the golden rule and follow it down the path toward ethical vegetarianism (among other applications of ahimsa), but we may appropriate reformulate it as to heighten our own sense of duty within creation: rather than “treat all living things as you would want to be treated,” perhaps, “govern creation as you would expect God to govern it.”

The reason Christianity does not accept the Jain understanding of the at least apparent scope of non-violence is because Jain has, in some sense, a more superficial understanding of what violence is and at what it may directed. Jain seems to understand ahimsa as applying to primarily acts of physical violence against biological life. Ahimsa is not as stridently applied to issues, for example, of economic, social, environmental (in a non-biological sense), and institutional violence which Christianity has stressed with varying degrees throughout its history. Peace is, for both Christianity and Jain, among the highest if not the very highest ideal, but in Christianity, the idea of peace is much more than merely non-harm toward life. It is an image of physical and metaphysical harmony where all creation is finally it accord with the Creator. Peace is the narrative of Micah 4, where in addition to the cessation of war all people flock to the mountain of God to receive instruction there and obedience to God becomes the hallmark of human existence. In this vision, as in so many other images of eschatological peace, the earth still gives up its fruit for the sustenance of all life as God had always intended it to, and in the eating of it there is no hint of violence. Thus, even while the Jain emphasis on peace as the ultimate goal appeals to Christians and teachings such as “the enlightened ones that were, and the enlightened ones that will be, they have Peace as their foundation, even as all things have the earth for their foundation” resonate, it must always be remembered that the peace of God is something more than non-violence. It is a peace which surpasses understanding, one which is better summed up in the parallelism of the psalm “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” than in the teaching of Sudharma, “He should cease to injure living beings…for this has been called the Nirvana, which consists in peace.”

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In Other News

Animals appear to be running amok in the news recently. Having recently shared the story of the dozens of beagles rescued from experimentation in Spain, it was nice to see this morning that some animals are taking the fight to people:

Dogs are man’s best friend. Except, you know, when they’re shooting a gun at you.

And strangely enough, that’s what really happened to a hapless dog owner in Brigham City, Utah. The man in question–a 46-year-old hunting enthusiast who is not named in local news reports on the incident–got a behind-full of birdshot courtesy of his loyal canine companion when he was out duck hunting over the weekend.

KSL.com reports the man and his dog were traveling in a canoe-like boat when the man stepped out into a shallow marsh to set up some decoys…Apparently excited to join his owner in the marsh, the dog jumped up on the boat’s bow and stepped on the gun. The gun was fired, hitting the man in the buttocks with 27 pellets of birdshot.

You’ll be relieved to know that the man was able to contact emergency services on his own and is now recovering nicely in the hospital. While there, he may receive an unusual visitor. Not once but twice now in the course of a few weeks, the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital has reported an unusual intruder in its emergency room:

At around 10 pm on Tuesday night, a flying squirrel managed to trap itself inside the emergency room at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital…this gifted flying rodent repeatedly launched itself from an 8-foot-high wall-mounted lamp, in order to avoid firefighters from the Rahway Fire Department.

“It would climb up on a light and would jump off and glide,” said fire department spokesman Capt. Ted Padavano. “It looked just like a little squirrel, but once it jumped into the air, it had like a glider, or like a bat, skin under its arms, like a little square glider.”

Eventually, a pair of firefighters managed to throw a blanket over the squirrel and safely release it unharmed into a wooded area outside the hospital.

The clever and articulate Captain Padavana has proposed the the squirrels continue to return because they have a nest somewhere in the hospital. I’m not sure why it hasn’t occurred to him that the squirrels may be there seeking emergency medical help. After all, the military is now having to treat service dogs with antidepressants for their canine PTSD. Far from the Onion-style spoof news that this would first appear, one in twenty military service dogs now apparently suffers from the condition:

Since the patient cannot explain what is wrong, veterinarians and handlers must make educated guesses about the traumatizing events. Care can be as simple as taking a dog off patrol and giving it lots of exercise, play time and gentle obedience training.

More serious cases will receive what Dr. Burghardt calls “desensitization counter-conditioning,” which entails exposing the dog at a safe distance to a sight or sound that might trigger a reaction—a gunshot, a loud bang or a vehicle, for instance. If the dog does not react, it is rewarded, and the trigger—”the spider in a glass box,” Dr. Burghardt calls it—is moved progressively closer until the dog is comfortable with it.

The story, in one moment, elicits both an eye-roll and a sigh of despair, as if the human toll of war was not a clear enough sign of its unnaturalness, God had to let us know that it even screws up animal psyches. But if these dogs think they have it bad, the clearly have not met Ge Ximping’s tortured and talented pig. Residing in the Anhui Province of China, this poor creature was born without any back legs. It has adapted to life as a paraplegic, not by scooting pitifully across the ground with its rear end dragging behind, but by teaching itself to walk upright on its front too legs. Unbelievable, you say? Believe it:

More unbelievable still is that this skillful swine is not the most unusual animal making headlines. Not long ago, there was an interesting video floating around of some German rabbits who thought they were thoroughbred horses. Now, it seems, there is a Finnish bunny who thinks it is a chicken. Reuters reports that Otto, the confused pet in question, came as part of a package deal with a brood of hens bought by his owners. Kept in the coop with his adoptive feathered family, Otto was quickly adopted into the group and began to exhibit many chicken-esque characteristics: “When I went to the hen house, I noticed he was sitting on the eggs. Later I watched through the window how he jumped on the beam, failed, tried again and with a lot of practice eventually he stayed up there.” In addition, he prefers to spend his time eating chicken feed (and the occasional raisin bun) and playing leap frog with his chicken friends. Isn’t it wonderful how God has chosen to populate His creation with so diverse and spectacular a set of creatures: rich in their personal complexity, inspiring in their conquest of adversity, comic even in their routine endeavors, and, on occasion (as with a dog who gives a sport hunter a taste of his own medicine), biting in their sense of irony.

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The Trojan Horse of Error

The July edition of the Gospel Advocate has a scathing article denouncing the most recent update of the NIV as “a Trojan horse of error that will destroy the faith of many.” The author further charges the translators with having suffered an “erosion of faith” and embracing “the errors of current Protestant theology that [the translation] poses a threat to sound doctrine.” In short, “the updated NIV is a greater danger to faith than any other major English version of Scripture.”

While I certainly do not agree with all the changes being made, I am equally opposed to this kind of alarmist language which attributes to the discretion of translators the power to make or break faith or distills differences of opinions into a loss of true Christian piety. I find the spirit of the article objectionable, but–since facts are more easy to quantify an objection to–I will turn to the two features of the translation which the author.

The first supposed flaw of the updated translation is its embrace of feminist theology. As expected, this takes the form in part of a shift toward gender inclusive language. A general skepticism is, of course, warranted by the politically motivated shift to take gender exclusive language from a language that has gender inclusive terms and translate it into gender inclusive language in a language that is notoriously resistant to gender inclusivity. Certainly the more intellectually honest approach is to leave the text as it stands and allow readers to infer inclusivity rather than to misrepresent the language in an effort to offer what the translator has decided is an accurate representation of the spirit. Where I stop short, however, is joining the author in his judgment that “the feminist agenda is rampant in the revised NIV.”

What the new edition displays is at most an overcorrection for centuries of failures–due mostly to the shortcomings of English, but perhaps in part to the androcentrism of our culture–to correctly render genuinely inclusive biblical language. For every Acts 18:27, which the author points out scandalously implies that “the sisters were involved in writing the letter” of introduction for Apollos, there is a counter-example such as 1 Corinthians 7:24 which, in the traditional gender exclusive, is theological nonsense. In fact, the verse in 1 Corinthians provides a particularly potent example. The 1984 NIV, which the articles author voices few if any objections to, renders the text “Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” Taken literally, Paul seems to free women here to do as they please relative to their social status: slaves can revolt, wives can desert, and so on. Of course, such a suggestion is nonsense since Paul only verse before explicitly included women in his teaching. What’s more, the verse itself does not have the gender exclusive “each man” as the translator renders it. It merely says “each” and leaves the reader to supply the noun (which in this case is probably the gender inclusive, grammatically masculine term anthropos). It is almost as if the newer translation gets it right in rendering the text “each person.”

In fairness to the article’s author, however, there is more to the “feminist” shift than simple gender inclusive language. Specifically, the author cites a change in the language of 2 Timothy 2:12, which the old version rendered “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” but which in the new edition reads “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Outrageous, no? The author suggests that, with this shift, “the revised NIV is parroting theories advocated by feminist theologians” which allow for a woman to lead provided she is offered this authority rather than seizing it for herself. While clearly not the scholar of feminist thought that the article’s author is, I can certainly tell you that the shift from “have” to “assume” (which is within the semantic range of the term authenteo) does not change the four principle features of this verse: (1) women cannot teach, (2) there are restrictions on women’s authority, (3) women ought to be quiet. The fourth, of course, is that this passage will still represent the number one reason that feminists are angry at the Bible no matter how you try to blunt the translation.

The second flaw, which curiously is offered less space than the feminist invasion, is the way the new NIV seems to undermine a young earth theory of creation. The author notes a troubling “attempt to destroy a literal reading of the creation account” through “imposed” formatting which “indicates the creation narrative is to be
read as poetry.” The article takes aim at those who would capitulate to theories of an old earth or evolution which just happen to be en vogue at the moment. “The translators of the NIV brush aside a literal understanding of creation and reduce all difficulties to poetic incidentals. You don’t want to believe in six days of creation with God specially calling everything into existence? No problem. The opening section of the revised NIV lends itself to theistic evolution or any other theory you might want to embrace.” What the author does not address is how simply breaking the text up into metered lines can somehow open up new hermeneutical possibilities not before available. Does he not realize that theories of theistic evolution and non-literal readings of Genesis antedate not only this aesthetic change by the editors but also such trivial historical events as the fall of the Roman Empire. Not being a scholar of Hebrew, or much of a poet, I have no idea whether or not the decision to represent Genesis 1 as poetry is warranted. I am, however, quite certain that a literal reading of the Genesis text is not dependent on the text’s formatting as prose any more than a non-literal understanding is dependent on a poetic presentation. The change in text alignment is certainly not, as the author’s subtitle claims, a “Destruction of Foundations” unless one’s faith is founded on the span of time it took God to create the earth.

Given my largely agnostic views about the scientific origin of the universe, I find the author’s protestations about Genesis 1 misguided but mostly innocuous. In contrast, it is always so unnerving for me, as someone with thoroughly conservative views about gender economics, to hear the hue and cry raised over any incursion of “liberal” or “feminist” sentiments into translations. Do we really believe that the biblical view of man- and womanhood is so vague, so fragile that it can really be undermined by translational subtleties? More importantly, what does it say about Christians when we inject such vitriol into these issues. I believe that women should stay out from behind pulpits. I do not believe that their failure to do so constitutes a lack of faith, a surrender to liberal, secular feminism, or a disqualification from salvation. While I know many, the Gospel Advocate author likely included, disagree, but even so the perceived (and I cannot stress that term strongly enough) endorsement of a different gender economy by the translators of the new NIV surely does not represent, on their part, a lack of faith, a surrender to liberal, secular feminism, or a disqualification from salvation. The divisive rhetoric that says that it does is what undermines not only all prospects of Christian unity but also any hope of evangelism in a world which already believes that Christianity’s métier is infighting and unbridled dogmatism. It is, in short, bad form.

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Re-Reading Revelation: Seals and Trumpets (Chs. 6-8)

With the beginning of chapter six it becomes significantly easier, and more tempting, to slip into quarrels about hermeneutics and misadventures into decoding symbols. While there are certainly eschatological questions to be answered in the chapters to come and there are serious disputes which require resolution, there are perhaps less contentious truths–though they are not, for this, less important or deliberate on the part of John–which can be embraced. What John offers the readers in the opening of the seven seals and the blowing of the first four trumpets is undoubtedly cryptic. It is even probable that his audience would have found the text equally cryptic, though they may have been less baffled by what was a more typical phenomenon at the time. What is apparent, however, are several central themes which run throughout.

The first of these is the way that John alternates deliberately between destruction and salvation, between judgment and mercy. For four seals, one terror after another is released upon the world. God’s agents unleash war, death, conquest, and famine in rapid succession until one quarter of the earth’s population is destroyed. Then the narrative jerks violently away to the martyrs of God beneath the altar, and the divine agents are depicted clothing the suffering servants of God and telling them to be at rest. Immediately, the sixth seal is broken and even greator horrors are unleased on the earth, leaving its inhabitants to cry out to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” After spending most of a chapter on the wholesale destruction of the earth, the scene breaks away for a full chapter of the angels proclaiming salvation on the servants of God. “…he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The imagery is as tender as the former was alarming.

The juxtaposition is not merely a matter of demonstrating that God is both loving and stern. John also goes to great lengths to clearly contrast the responses of the children of God with those who are hopelessly set against Him. The saved, from every tribe, nation, and tongue, cry out together, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” This is almost certainly intended by John to be ironic, considering that mere verses ago the objects of God’s wrath sought salvation from the mountains. While the saints offer their prayers to God, the lost pray senselessly to the mountains for salvation. They should have known that God is God over all creation, even the mountains.

Which is the second theme running through the text. The catalogue of destruction which is offered up in the opening of the seven seals and the blowing of the first four trumpets is not some litany of divine sadism and must certainly be more than a mere ennumeration of destructive methodology. Instead, Revelation 6-8 is a creation text supremely concerned with reminding God’s creatures in astonishing fashion that He is creator and Master of His creation. God created the myriad and magnificent flora of the earth; with the first trumpet He permits their destruction. God created the oceans and the life which teems in them; with the second trumpet He permits their destruction. God created the fresh water rivers which sustain all life on earth; with the third trumpet He permits their destruction. God made all the lights of the heavens; with the fourth trumpet He permits their destruction. Over the course of the divine drama, God rolls up His heavens, displaces His mountains, casts down His stars, opens up His depths, unleashes His wind, and shakes the very foundations of His earth until all creation is reminded that He is in fact Almighty. Even death, that most pernicious of Christian enemies, is not above God. He is its master and will allow its persistence in accordance with His will, be it through war or through famine. In a trivial sense, the whole passage boils down to the great, familiar Bill Cosby adage, “I brough you into this world; I can take you out of it.” Except God can say it to the whole of creation.

Finally, the reader is reminded throughout this text that God is not only a God who judges, who forgives, who creates, and who can uncreate but He is also a God who listens. This would have been uniquely important to the Christians of John’s audience who were suffering great trials. One can only imagine the countless prayers for deliverance which were offered up and which, by all appearances, were never answered. It would be a long time before Christ’s church ever found longterm safety, and in many places it still languishes in waiting. That we suffer, John reminds us, is not because our God is apathetic. When the saints beneath the altar cry out to God, their pleas are not ignored. They do not get the retribution they are begging for, but it is not because God does not sympathize with them. His plans just supercede our impatience. Later, the prayers–presumably the similar prayers to those before–of God’s people are offered up with a censer before the throne. In response, that censer is filled with fire from the altar and cast onto the earth with “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” The prayers of the saints were not ignored nor were they wrong simply because they did not result in immediate action. They were heard and answered in power, an expectation that we can share provided that our prayers align themselves with the will of God.


For a full list of “Re-reading Revelation” posts, see Re-reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose.

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